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June 20

How to Avoid the ABM Trough of Disillusionment | Engagio

What causes good marketers to execute bad Account [...]

How to Avoid the ABM Trough of Disillusionment

Summary: What causes good marketers to execute bad ABM and fall victim to the hype cycle (plus, how to avoid disappointment.)

I think we’ve hit peak hype with ABM.

These days, you can’t trip over a B2B marketer without hearing them talk about Account Based Marketing (ABM). Adoption is on the rise, and more vendors than ever have attached themselves to the term to take advantage of the fervor. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways this is great, and exactly the type of excitement we predicted and hoped for when founding Engagio. To-date we have brought hundreds of organizations onto our platform to experience the benefits of ABM.

But, excitement comes with a consequence.

Hype inevitably creates backlash. Recently, a post featuring the “ABM Hype Cycle” has made the rounds, illustrating the sharp and quick rise in excitement, and a fall into a “trough of disillusionment” when expectations aren’t met:

Gartner began using the Hype Cycle in the 90s, and it can be applied to any new technology that earns a groundswell of activity and growth.  In the post, Steve Watt argues that the Hype Cycle doesn’t just work for technological adoption, it can also be applied to new business strategies such as ABM — and as I’ve often argued, ABM is NOT a technology category, it is a business strategy.

As a founder situated firmly in the midst of the ABM hype, I want to address this perceived letdown, and offer some strategies for avoiding the hype cycle entirely.

First thing’s first:

ABM only works if it’s done right.

ABM is not a fad, it’s a fundamentally better way of doing business for high-value B2B sales and marketing. We know it works from the incredible success of Engagio customers, and from empirical studies proving ABM drives higher ROI than any other tactic for the vast majority of marketers.

But, ABM only works when it’s done right. The term may be everywhere right now, but few companies are really doing it optimally. Hype is causing some well-intentioned marketers to take shortcuts simply to “check the box” on ABM.

The danger is, ABM shortcuts are the fastest way to the “trough of disillusionment,” not to mention a huge waste of time, resources, and budget.

I get it — ABM done right is hard, and marketers are busy. Most CEOs don’t approach their CMO saying “do you want more budget and people to do this ABM thing?” So, it’s not surprising marketers take the easy path. But, it takes some real effort to work — and that’s the point. That’s what earns you the right to win business with high-value accounts.

Don’t forget, ABM is about identifying your highest-value target accounts, then finding creative ways to cut through the noise to engage with the right people. It’s about standing out. These executives aren’t raising their hands, as they do with inbound marketing. They haven’t expressed interest in you, as they do with lead-based demand generation.

To engage these buyers, you must delight, educate, and/or add value.

Or, as Watt recommends in his post, blow their minds!

B2B industries are more competitive today than ever before. They’re crowded, commoditized, noisy, and everybody is trying to knock on the same doors. Buyers are overwhelmed by this noise, and will immediately throw away anything uninteresting, hit “SPAM” on emails that smell like sales, and ignore your ads (no matter how targeted they may be).

We need to break through all that noise to be successful with ABM. The best way to do that is with customization.

Customization is not optional in ABM

We know from The Challenger Sale that the best B2B salespeople are able to teach their buyers, and tailor that teaching for each unique business. In addition, ITSMA studies show 75% of executives will read unsolicited marketing materials if relevant to their business, and 92% will pay attention to these materials even from providers they’ve not done business with before. But the key here is that it must be relevant — which means tailored to their business.

ABM requires high-value, customized, valuable touchpoints.

If you don’t find a way to stand out from all the noise, your ABM efforts won’t deliver on the promise and you’ll end up in the trough of disillusionment.

ABM is about focus — different styles of ABM

However, you can’t be super-customized for every account. You can’t blow the minds of every decision maker. Nobody has the resources for that. You need to make decisions as to where your energy goes, and where it doesn’t go. The whole point of ABM is that it’s an opportunity to focus more resources on the accounts that are the most valuable and the most meaningful.

That’s why target account selection is a critical step in ABM. But it’s not enough just to pick the accounts, since it’s unlikely that each target account is worth exactly the same value; you also need to put them into tiers.

ABM experts have long agreed that there are different styles ofABM. They’ve laid out three distinct ways that teams currently approach ABM. Here’s how we think about them at Engagio:

 

  • Strategic ABM – these are seven figure plus accounts that require and deserve true one to one engagement: deep research, personalized content, bespoke campaigns, and organizational-wide focus. Even the largest organizations will only have a handful of these whale accounts, and each ABM marketer will typically handle only four or five of them. When the ITSMA talks about ABM as treating each account as a “market of one”, this is what they’re talking about. (Note: Strategic ABM is most often used on existing customers. According to the ITSMA and ABM Leadership Alliance, 84% of strategic accounts are current customers.)
  • Scale ABM – in Scale ABM, each account gets personalized outreach but at a lighter level. For example, you might have a “lite” version of the Account Plan, and you might use the same basic campaign template but then customize it for each account’s unique business needs. By definition, scale ABM is more scalable than strategic ABM and can handle dozens of accounts (usually less than 100 total), but there’s still hard work and lots of human touch involved — and as a result this style is usually most appropriate for deals worth six figures.
  • Programmatic ABM done right – programmatic ABM evolved to deliver some of the benefits of the other styles of ABM but at a much greater scale for deals worth less than $100K. Done well, it can still deliver value to customers by delighting and/or educating them with industry- and role-specific content; personal, human emails; interesting direct mail; and other scaleable ABM tactics.

Each style of ABM should come with “entitlements”. Entitlements answer the question “what is the right amount of time, money and resources dedicated to each account in each style/tier of ABM?” The entitlements document the balance of investment in time and resources to target accounts, and serve as the service-level agreement (SLA) between marketing and sales as to who does what and when for each kind of account.

Once you’ve built alignment around your entitlements for each style, you’ll be able to determine how many accounts you can realistically support in each tier — which will inform your account selection process. Learn more about entitlements for account-based marketing here.

Programmatic ABM done wrong

Programmatic ABM done wrong occurs when marketers use the same tactics as they would in lead-based demand generation, but just happen to send them to target accounts. This is just targeted demand generation in disguise. (Hint: if you’re still tracking leads and MQLs and not marketing qualified accounts / MQAs, you’re probably at risk of this.  By definition, ABM requires account-centric metrics.)

It’s here that many fall into the trough of disillusionment with ABM.

So often when marketers say “I’m doing ABM,” what they’re really doing is running some ads and maybe sending some direct mail packages to target accounts. Too often, these packages don’t amount to much more than sending some generic SWAG, and the only follow-up is a generic lead nurture track. These generic tactics aren’t going to break through the noise and connect with executive decision makers at named accounts.

I think, in an attempt to scale ABM, too many marketers have placed unrealistic expectations on programmatic tactics.

ABM is about saying no

As mentioned before, you can’t be customized for everybody, you don’t have the resources. That’s why programmatic tactics are so appealing, on the surface. It feels “scalable.” It appears to reach the largest possible audience. It casts a wide net. But, by relying on generic tactics we’re falling victim to the mindset of lead-based marketing. ABM is about fishing with spears, not nets.

To drive real account-based engagement, to stand out from all the noise, there are no shortcuts. It requires hard work, elbow grease, and the involvement of real, live, human beings. If you successfully close large deals, you know this to be true. Customization is not optional.

Advertising is not sufficient for Account Based Marketing

Let’s get real about ads.

As Michael Brenner said, “If content marketing is the hero of the modern marketing story, then banner ads are most certainly the villain.” Display ads carry an average CTR of 0.1%. In fact, you’re more likely to survive a plane crash, get into Harvard, or win the lottery, than have someone click on your banner ad.

I’m an executive. Personally, I can’t recall the last time I clicked on an ad.

Not to mention, display ads suffer serious issues including viewability, click fraud, bots, ad blockers, and viewer fatigue – not to mention the brand risk of having your ad show up on a site whose content you don’t agree with.

The account-based advertising platforms available today don’t allow for real customization or personalization beyond funnel stage and maybe industry. (Sticking the company name in the ad doesn’t count; that’s no better than saying “Dear [[FNAME]]” in an email.) By their very nature, ad networks force marketers into larger segments to have enough impressions – the opposite of the smaller, more targeted segments that ABM is all about.

In my opinion, ads are often the cause of the ABM trough of disillusionment.

ABM has become over-identified with advertising, and that’s a real disservice to the category.

When Ads Do Play a Role

Now, I’m NOT saying ads don’t work at all, and I’m NOT saying they don’t fit into an overall ABM strategy.  They CAN work as part of an orchestrated campaign, especially if your goal is to increase awareness with a much broader set of people at a target account.  I’m just saying that you shouldn’t rely on ads and feel confident that you’re “doing ABM” well. That requires a deeper ABM foundation and broader orchestration strategy.

The Data

Of course, don’t just take my word for it. We did some experiments at Engagio with integrated ABM plays in a campaign that included sending packages (two test versions) with valuable content and customized, handwritten notes for multiple target personas at key target accounts. For half the accounts, we also purchased advertising to see what incremental impact it had.

The results? Ads did provide a significant lift in web traffic from target accounts, but there was absolutely NO LIFT in our ability to get meetings with the right folks or to create opportunities at the accounts that had ads versus those that didn’t:

  • Package 1 only: 34% meeting rate
  • Ads and Package 2: 21% rate
  • Ads and Package 1: 20% rate
  • Package 2 only: 18% rate

Ads provide awareness, but most marketers aren’t just trying to drive awareness with ABM. They’re trying to drive meaningful engagement, meetings, and sales opportunities.

Remember, ABM works when you do it right.  But, so many companies fail with ad-only ABM strategies, and that trough gets bigger and bigger.

So, what tactics do work for ABM?

The ITSMA asked ABM practitioners of each style of ABM what specific tactics were most effective. The conclusion: no matter which style of ABM, the most effective tactics involve custom, human interactions.

Even in programmatic ABM, the tactics that work best are the ones that deliver customized value.

The conclusion is simple: you simply cannot remove human beings from the ABM equation if you want to deliver customized value.

3 tips for the road ahead – getting the most value out of ABM 

I hope by now you agree that avoiding the trough of disillusionment means executing ABM correctly, and that means there’s no “easy button”. But while it can be tough, it’s certainly not impossible. Here are my recommended steps forward to start – or maybe recover – your ABM initiative:

ABM is not a year-long, painful, massive project that will derail your marketing organization. It certainly takes more time than ads do, but the rewards are worth it.

The most straightforward path to success starts by building your account foundation. Match leads to accounts (if you want to think with an account-centric lens, you need a single view of accounts), and begin to adopt concepts like MQAs, not MQLs. (Read the difference.) 

Customization requires collaboration. As Watt’s hype cycle article says:

“New ways of going to market will require new ways of thinking, acting, and collaborating…. not enough that they sign off on it or otherwise passively agree. You need full, active co-ownership. Nothing less will create the conditions for real success.”

Book a recurring standup between someone on the Marketing team and Account Executives (and SDRs) to review target accounts and discuss ways to jointly go after them. Give Sales the insights they need into what’s happening with their accounts. (I don’t mean simple news alerts – I’m talking insight into cross-channel engagement.) Sales needs to know what marketing is doing, and what their accounts are doing.

Finally, put the tactics to work that are meant to work in ABM. Set up one-to-one meetings, create custom thought leadership, craft personalized emails, and drive executive engagement. Have a sales person, marketer, or member of your executive team take action at the right time, ensuring follow-up. Ads can play a role here, but they are not sufficient for meaningful engagement.

The bottom line – ABM is about setting expectations

The Hype Cycle article made some great points.

One, in particular, was about setting the right expectations. If you go into ABM without realigning the organization’s expectations – you’re walking into a buzzsaw. Traditional, lead-based metrics focus on quantity. ABM focuses on quality.

Set the right expectations, and stop relying on programmatic tactics to deliver the value that truly customized ABM delivers. You’ll set your ABM initiative up for success – and avoid that dreaded trough entirely.

Jon Miller
Jon Miller is CEO and founder of Engagio. Previously, Jon was the VP Marketing and Co-Founder of Marketo. He is a speaker and writer about marketing best practices, and is the author of multiple Definitive Guides including Marketing Automation, Engaging Email Marketing, and Marketing Metrics & Analytics. Jon has a passion for helping marketers everywhere, and is on the Board of Scripted and is an advisor to Optimizely and Newscred. In 2010, The CMO Institute named Jon a Top 10 CMO for companies under $250 million revenue. Jon holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
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Sales List

A curated list of tools & resources for salespeopl [...]

A curated list of tools & resources for salespeople

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The biggest catalog of 450+ sales tools

A hand-curated list of sales tools & resources for [...]
https://sales.reply.io
June 09

SPIN Selling: The Ultimate Guide

Learn the principles of SPIN Selling, get a summar [...]

If you’re a B2B salesperson, you’ve probably heard about SPIN Sales. It’s one of the most well-known -- not to mention oldest -- selling systems. SPIN gives reps a research-backed framework for working and closing complex deals with extended sales processes.

You can use SPIN principles along with your current sales methodology. The strategy focuses on asking good questions in the right order, using active listening, and translating the prospect’s needs into your product’s features. (Many of SPIN’s principles align well with inbound sales.)

To help you implement the most useful tips, aspects, and templates from SPIN Selling, we’ve put together the following guide:

What is SPIN Selling?

The SPIN sales strategy comes from Neil Rackham’s 1988 classic, “Spin Selling.” It’s based on 12 years of research and 35,000 sales calls.

To win larger, consultative deals, Rackham argues salespeople must abandon traditional sales techniques. Rather than twisting their customers’ arms, they need to build value, identify needs, and ultimately, serve as a trusted advisor.

SPIN Selling Acronym

SPIN stands for the four stages of the questioning sequence:

SPIN Selling Summary

To get the full impact of Rackham’s advice, we recommend reading the entire book. Here’s the link to SPIN Selling book on Amazon.

Here’s a handy overview of the contents:

Section 1. Sales Behavior and Sales Success

  • Closing is less important than most salespeople and managers think
  • Questioning is more important than most salespeople and managers think
  • The ratio of close-ended to open-ended questions doesn’t predict selling success
  • Great reps focus on preventing, not handling, objections

Section 2. Obtaining Commitment: Closing the Sale

  • Successful closing depends on getting the right commitment
  • Reps must determine their call objectives in advance
  • There are four potential outcomes to every sales call: Order, advance, continuation, no-sales

Section 3. Customer Needs in the Major Sale

  • Implicit needs are statements about problems, issues, and areas of dissatisfaction
  • Explicit needs are specific features or functions
  • In larger sales, explicit needs are strong buying signals

Section 4. The SPIN Strategy

  • Salespeople who close at high rates tend to ask the same types of questions in the same order
  • There are four main question types: Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-Payoff
  • Each question type plays a different role in moving the buyer toward the sale

Section 5. Giving Benefits in Major Sales

  • Features and benefits are the most common ways to pitch a product to the buyer
  • Advantages are less effective later in the sales process
  • Features are more important to users than decision makers
  • Benefits have the highest influence over the purchasing decision, but only when presented near the end of the sales conversation

Section 6. Preventing Objections

  • Objections are usually created by the salesperson, not the buyer
  • The more advantages you present, the more objections you’ll receive
  • Develop needs before you offer benefits to avoid unnecessary objections

Section 7. Preliminaries: Opening the Call

  • Don’t use conventional openings, i.e. providing benefits or relating to the prospect's personal interests
  • Get down to business quickly and establish your purpose

Section 8. Turning Theory Into Practice

  • Adopt one principle of SPIN Selling at a time to avoid getting overwhelmed
  • Practice them with smaller accounts or existing customers first

SPIN Selling Questions

Questions are the foundation of SPIN Selling. Rackham and his team found top-performing salespeople rarely, if ever, pose random, low-value questions. Not only does every question have a clear purpose, but the order in which they ask their questions is strategic, too.

The four main types of SPIN Selling questions are:

Let’s examine each type in more detail.

SPIN Situation Questions

Use Situation questions to learn where your prospects stand -- from their processes and pain points to competitive plans and results. The specific questions will depend on your product; for example, if you offer leadership training for mid-level managers, you might ask, “How do you currently teach first-time managers best practices and strategies?”

If you sell office supplies, on the other hand, you might ask, “How do you purchase office supplies right now?”

Here are some sample questions you can customize for your own use:

  • What is your role at [company]?
  • How do you do X?
  • What’s your process for X?
  • Walk me through your day.
  • Do you have a strategy in place for X?
  • Who’s responsible for X?
  • How long have you done X this way?
  • Why do you do X this way?
  • How much budget do you have assigned to X?
  • Why do you do X this way?
  • How important is X to your business?
  • Who uses X most frequently? What are their objectives?
  • Which tools do you currently use to do X?
  • Who is your current vendor for X?
  • Why did you choose your current vendor for X?

Note the lack of fact-gathering questions like, “How big is your company?”, “How many locations do you have?”, “Which products do you sell?”, and so on. When Rackham published "SPIN Selling," there wasn’t anywhere near as much information available to sellers.

Now that you can discover a long list of key details about your prospect with a quick online search, many situational questions are no longer effective. Not only do they make buyers impatient, these questions also leave less time for the most important ones. Ask as few of the questions in this category as you can -- and make sure you’ve done research before the call.

SPIN Problem Questions

In this stage, reps identify potential areas of opportunity. In other words, what gap isn’t being filled? Where is the prospect dissatisfied? They may be unaware they have a problem, so delve into the common places your solution adds value.

  • How long does it take to do X?
  • How expensive is X?
  • How many people are required to achieve the necessary results?
  • What happens if you’re not successful with X?
  • Does this process ever fail?
  • Are you satisfied with your current process for X? The results?
  • How reliable is your equipment?
  • When you have issues, is it typically easy to figure out what went wrong?
  • How much effort is required to fix your tools or buy new ones?
  • Are you happy with your current supplier?

SPIN Implication Questions

Once you’ve identified an issue, figure out how serious it is. Implication questions reveal the depth and magnitude of your prospect’s pain point -- simultaneously giving you valuable information for customizing your message and instilling urgency in the buyer.

According to Rackham, they should have a new appreciation for the problem by the time you’ve finished this part of the conversation.

Rackham also says top-performing salespeople ask four times as many Implication questions than their average peers.

  • What’s the productivity cost of doing X that way?
  • What could you accomplish with an extra [amount of time] each [week, month]?
  • Would your customers be [more satisfied, engaged, loyal] if you didn’t experience [problem related to X]?
  • If you didn’t experience [issue], would it be easier to achieve [primary objective]?
  • Does [issue] ever prevent you from hitting your goals in [business area]?
  • When was the last time X didn’t work?
  • How is [issue] impacting your team members?
  • Would you say [issue] is a blocker in terms of your personal career growth?
  • Would saving [amount of time] make a significant difference to your [team, budget, company]?
  • How would you use an extra [amount of money] each [week, month, quarter, year]?
  • Has a problem with X ever negatively impacted your KPIs?

SPIN Need-Payoff Questions

Need-Payoff questions encourage the prospect to explain your product’s benefits in their own words, which is far more persuasive than listening to you describe those benefits.

Essentially, you’re asking questions that surface your offering’s potential to help with their core needs or problems. These questions focus on the value, importance, or utility of the solution.

Make sure your Need-Payoff questions don’t highlight issues your product can’t solve. For instance, if you help corporate recruiting teams identify potential engineering candidates, you shouldn’t ask about the impact of hiring better marketers.

Fortunately, it’s relatively simple to develop Need-Payoff questions -- they should come directly from your Implication questions.

Sample Implication question: “Has a problem with X ever prevented you from meeting a deadline?”

Sample Need-Payoff question: “If you could do X in half the time, would that make it easier to meet your deadlines?”

Customizable Need-Payoff questions include:

  • Would it help if … ?
  • Would X make it simpler to achieve [positive event]?
  • Would your team find value in … ?
  • Do you think solving [problem] would significantly impact you in Y way?
  • Is it important for your team members to see X benefit so they can take Y action?

Be careful -- Need-Payoff questions can backfire. If they’re too obvious, you might come across as condescending. Try to reframe the solution in a way the buyer hasn’t previously considered.

For example, rather than asking, “Would your company benefit in saving money?”, you could ask, “Would redirecting $1,000 per week from your content creation budget and putting it into Facebook advertising drive significant traffic toward your blog?”

The 4 Stages of a SPIN Sale

Rackham says there are four basic stages of every sale:

Transactional salespeople often move through all four of these stages in a single sales call. However, reps working on larger, more complex deals might take two months to two years to complete them.

To help mid-market and enterprise salespeople measure their progress, Rackham uses the concept of “advances.” An advance is an action the buyer commits to that brings you closer to a purchase.

The operative word is action. It’s tempting to interpret your prospect’s request for more information or a proposal as a buying signal, but that puts the ball entirely in your court. If the buyer is actually interested, they’ll agree to do some work as well.

A continuation is a sales conversation that ends with an undesirable outcome. In other words, when you finish the call or meeting the buyer hasn’t agreed to any next steps that will advance the deal.

Example advances include the prospect reviewing your pricing page and sending you their questions, signing up for a free trial and exploring the tool, or introducing you to a key stakeholder.

Come up with as many valuable advances as possible. The more paths to the sale you have, the likelier you are to get there. When your prospect turns down one of your advances -- for example, an introduction to Procurement -- you can calmly accept the rejection and then propose something else.

An order is the third potential outcome of a sales call. The buyer agrees to purchase your product and shows their strong desire by signing paperwork. For large deals, this is usually the last outcome in a series of progressively larger closes.

A no-sale is the fourth (and least desirable) outcome. Your prospect rejects your request -- you can’t meet with the decision maker, they won’t schedule another meeting, or at the most extreme, they say there’s no possibility you’ll work together.

SPIN Selling Opening

SPIN Selling and inbound sales take the same approach to the first, or connect, call. Reps shouldn’t immediately jump into their product’s features and benefits -- not only will this overly aggressive strategy turn off prospects, but salespeople will lose the opportunity to learn valuable information.

The purpose of the connect call is to get the buyer’s attention and start to earn their trust. Lead with a compelling insight or thought-provoking question.

SPIN Selling Investigating

Investigation is the most important phase of SPIN Selling. It’s equivalent to the discovery call: You’re figuring out how your product can help the buyer, identifying their priorities and buying criteria, and gaining credibility by asking relevant, targeted, strategic questions.

According to Rackham, a strong question strategy can improve your close rate by 20%.

SPIN Selling Demonstrating Capability

Once you’ve connected the dots between your solution and the prospect’s needs, you need to prove that connection exists.

There are three basic ways to describe your product’s capabilities, Rackham says:

Features are most useful when selling low-cost, simple products. A feature for a cup might be, “It can hold 10 ounces of liquid.” End users tend to find features more compelling than decision makers, who care about the bottom-line results.

Advantages describe how a product’s features are actually used. Like benefits, they’re useful for smaller purchases but less persuasive with larger ones. The advantage of a cup might be, “You can use it to drink both hot and cold beverages.”

Benefits go one step further and show how a feature can help the prospect. They typically have a financial component and meet your customer’s need(s). A well-crafted benefit gives the buyer a reason to buy your product. The benefit of your cup might be, “Since you drink coffee in the morning and iced coffee in the afternoon, you’ll appreciate this mug’s versatility. Now you can enjoy both beverages with one cup.”

The FAB formula gives you another way to think about features, advantages, and benefits.

Because [product] has [feature]

[user] will be able to [advantage]

which means [prospect] will experience [benefit].

Let’s fill in this formula for a salesperson offering employee gamification software.

“Because our platform lets you set up leaderboards for your service teams, customer support reps will get a real-time overview of their performance compared to their peers. That means they’ll be motivated to raise their average satisfaction rating and respond to tickets more quickly.”

SPIN Objections

In every deal, objections are inevitable. In fact, you should worry more if you’re not getting them -- that means your prospect has reservations they’re not sharing with you. Your goal is to discover why the buyer hasn’t already pulled the trigger on this purchase, then help them understand why their concerns aren’t true blockers.

(Of course, if there’s a valid reason your product isn’t a good fit, you shouldn’t persuade them otherwise.)

Rackham states there are two types of objections:

  1. Value: Your prospect isn’t convinced about your product’s ROI. They might say, “I like its features, but the cost is too high.”
  2. Capability: Your prospect doubts that your product can meet their specific needs. That translates to comments like, “I’m not sure it’ll be able to do X for us,” “That process seems like it would take more time than you say,” and “I think we need a more robust solution.”

Capability objections can be further broken down:

  1. Can’t: Your solution cannot solve one of the buyer’s main priorities
  2. Can: Your solution can solve one of their main priorities, but they don’t perceive that

It’s important to prevent as many objections as possible. The majority of objections are actually avoidable if you avoid selling too soon.

Rackham’s research revealed that reps can cut the number of objections in half by using implication and need-payoff questions to build value before presenting a solution.

In the traditional sequence, the salesperson asks a Problem question. Then they use the prospect’s answer to offer the corresponding product feature.

However, the rep usually doesn’t have enough context to truly understand what the prospect is trying to accomplish or what’s blocking her. Their generic, one-size-fits-all answer prompts the buyer to push back -- and she’s probably not going to listen to any of their future suggestions.

Try the SPIN sequence instead. Ask a Problem question, probe into the consequences with Implication questions, then ask the buyer to recognize the value of a solution with a Need-Payoff question.

Modern-Day SPIN Selling

“SPIN Selling” was published more than 30 years ago. Although its core techniques and principles hold true, the typical buying journey has evolved. If you’re going to use the SPIN model, you should update it.

First, ask as few Situation and Problem questions as possible. Prospects simply don’t have the patience to do your homework for you. They don’t want you to identify the pain points they already know about -- if that was the case, they’d simply buy the solution by themselves. You’re valuable because you can find opportunities or pain points your buyers don’t yet know about.

With that in mind, use thought-provoking questions such as, "Has your organization ever considered [new strategy]?", "Do you know [surprising statistic]?", and "Would you like some recommendations for preparing for [impending industry event]?" 

Rackham didn't give these questions their own category, but they're definitely useful in modern sales.

Second, incorporate social selling into your strategy. When Rackham came out with "Social Selling," LinkedIn didn't exist. Now you have far more insight into your buyers' perspectives, priorities, and personalities than salespeople in the late '80s could ever have dreamed of. Don't let this valuable resource go to waste. Read your prospect's profile(s), browse their group comments and any articles they've written or shared, check out their Recommendations section to get a feel for their work ethic, and so on. Become as familiar with each individual as you can before your kick-off sales call so you can engage them like it's the fifth meeting, not the first.

Third, guide their buying process. As the average number of stakeholders involved in every B2B deal grows larger, and internal buying processes become more complex, your expertise gets more valuable. Prospects need you to help them purchase your product like they never have before. Come prepared with the job titles -- and potentially names, if you can find them -- of their coworkers who need to be informed or consulted. Tell your point of contact what their manager is going to want to know before they approve the decision, and send them materials to make their presentation more compelling. Work with your contact to anticipate and avoid roadblocks. Liaise with Procurement and/or Legal when necessary to get the deal over the finish line as quickly and easily as possible. Although Rackham didn't give these recommendations in "SPIN Selling," they're one of the most effective ways to differentiate yourself in modern sales.

How are you using SPIN Selling techniques to prospect, qualify, and close? Let us know in the comments!

Originally published May 04 2017, updated July 28 2017
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